United States District Court, D. Connecticut
BLANCA R. DIAZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
RULING RE: MOTION TO REVERSE THE DECISION OF THE
COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 22) & MOTION TO AFFIRM THE
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 23)
C. HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Blanca R. Diaz (“Diaz”) brings this appeal under
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code from the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”), which denied her
application for Title II disability insurance benefits.
See generally Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc.
No. 1). Diaz seeks either reversal or remand of the Decision
rendered by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Alexander Peter Borré, which affirmed the
Commissioner's denial. See Motion to Reverse the
Decision of the Commissioner (“Mot. to Reverse”)
(Doc. No. 22); see also Memorandum in Support of
Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner (“Pl.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 22-2)
at 25. The Commissioner cross-moves for an order affirming
the ALJ's Decision. See Motion to Affirm the
Decision of the Commissioner (“Mot. to Affirm”)
(Doc. No. 23).
reasons set forth below, Diaz's Motion to Reverse the
Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 22) is
GRANTED. The Motion to Affirm the Decision
of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 23) is DENIED.
applied for disability insurance benefits on October 30,
2013, alleging a disability onset date of June 24, 2013.
See Plaintiff's Proposed Statement of Facts
(“Pl.'s Statement of Facts”) (Doc. No. 22-1)
at 1; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to
Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner (“Def.'s
Mem.”) (Doc. No. 23-1) at 2 (adopting the procedural
history as outlined in Plaintiff's Statement of Facts).
The Commissioner denied Diaz's application initially on
January 28, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on September
18, 2014. See Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 1.
Diaz requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on
January 19, 2016. See Id. Diaz was represented by
counsel at the hearing, and she testified through a
translator. See Certified Transcript of Record
(“R.”) (Doc. Nos. 14-1-14-10) at 35. John
Matzilevich, a vocational expert, also testified before the
ALJ by telephone, over the objection of Diaz's attorney.
See id. at 35-36.
February 8, 2016, ALJ Borré issued an unfavorable
decision for Diaz, affirming the Commissioner's denial.
See id. at 9. Specifically, he found that Diaz had
two severe impairments, rheumatoid arthritis and major
depressive disorder without psychotic features. See
id. at 18. However, he concluded that Diaz's
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of
any listed impairment. See id. The ALJ further
determined that Diaz had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work, with the following
additional limitations: she could (1) occasionally climb
ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps, and stairs; (2)
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; (3)
frequently reach overhead and finger bilaterally; and (3)
perform simple and repetitive tasks in an environment with no
public contact and only occasional contact with coworkers and
supervisors. See id. at 20. On the basis of
vocational expert Matzilevich's testimony and Diaz's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that
Diaz was not disabled because there existed a significant
number of jobs in the national economy that Diaz could
perform. See id. at 25.
requested review of the ALJ's Decision by the Appeals
Council. See Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 2.
On March 6, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the request,
making ALJ Borré's Decision final and reviewable
by this court. See id. Diaz then filed this appeal
in federal court on April 10, 2017. See Compl. at 1.
court assumes the parties' familiarity with the evidence
of Record, and it will therefore only briefly describe the
facts relevant to this opinion.
was born on November 26, 1967. See R. at 38. From
1991 to 2013, Diaz worked at a nursing home, first in the
laundry department and later as a recreational therapist
assisting patients with Alzheimer's disease. See
id. at 41-42, 243-245. Diaz testified that arthritis and
depression have prevented her from working since 2013.
See id. at 43.
treating physicians have diagnosed her with rheumatoid
arthritis and major depressive disorder. See id. at
410, 730. Dr. Nicholas Formica (“Dr. Formica”), a
rheumatologist at Hartford Health Care Medical Group, has
treated Diaz's arthritis since at least as early as March
12, 2013. See Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 2.
Dr. Victor Tirado (“Dr. Tirado”), a psychiatrist,
has treated her depression since at least as early as May 31,
2013. See id. at 3. The record also contains (1)
notes from Ms. Tina Robbins (“PA Robbins”), a
physician's assistant at Solano Medical Group who
conducted several examinations of Diaz; and (2) notes from
Dr. Robert Belniak (“Dr. Belniak”), who saw Diaz
once in December 2015. See id. at 2, 4, 7, 13, 20.
Formica completed a medical source statement for Diaz on
September 12, 2014. See id. at 21. In this medical
opinion, he stated that Diaz suffered from several medical
impairments, including rheumatoid arthritis, bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome, and pain in her cervical spine and lumbar
spine. See id. at 410. As clinical evidence of these
impairments, he noted that Diaz had stiffness, swelling,
fluid, pain, and tenderness in her joints; redness and warmth
in and around her joints; limited and decreased range of
motion in her joints, particularly with respect to her knees,
wrists, cervical spine, and shoulders; spasm in her cervical
and lumbar spine; fatigue, malaise, and muscle weakness; and
numbness and tingling in her hands. See id. Dr.
Formica further indicated that Diaz had joint deformity,
reduced grip strength, trigger points, and a positive
straight leg raising test. See id. at 411. He
opined, inter alia, that Diaz could not stand for
more than 30 minutes at a time due to swollen knee and ankle
joints; that she could not sit for more than 1 hour at a time
due to cervical spine pain and lumbar spine pain; and that
she must lie down for at least 30 minutes every three hours.
See id. at 412-413. He also opined that Diaz was
severely limited in her ability to, inter alia,
reach overhead, finger, push, pull, lift, bend, squat, and
kneel. See id. at 413-415.
Tirado completed two medical source statements on Diaz's
mental health, one in September 2014 and another in December
2015. See Pl.'s Statement of Facts ¶ 24,
25. In these statements, he listed a variety of symptoms
caused by Diaz's depression, including anhedonia,
decreased energy, difficulty thinking or concentrating, easy
distractibility, feelings of guilt or worthlessness,
persistent disturbances of mood or affect, and memory
impairment. See R. at 418-491, 730. He further
opined that Diaz's mental health impairments
significantly limited her ability to function, including by
impairing her ability to remember work-like procedures, to
understand and remember instructions, to maintain attention
and concentration for extended periods, to make simple
work-related decisions, to interact appropriately with the
general public, to get along with coworkers, and to respond
appropriately to changes in the work setting. See
id. at 420-422, 731-732. While noting that Diaz's
mental impairments would likely produce both “good
days” and “bad days, ” Dr. Tirado estimated
that Diaz would miss work more than 3 times a month as a
result of her depressive disorder. See id. at 422.
state agency medical consultants, Dr. Maria Lorenzo
(“Dr. Lorenzo”) and Dr. Thomas Hill (“Dr.
Hill”), came to different conclusions about the
severity of Diaz's limitations. See Def.'s
Mem. at 8, 9. These two medical consultants did not
personally examine Diaz. See id.; see also
R. at 22, 23. Instead, they based their opinions primarily on
the treating notes from Dr. Formica and Dr. Tirado and on
Diaz's written responses to the activities of daily
living questionnaire. See R. at 78-85. On the basis
of her review of the paper record, Dr. Lorenzo opined that
Diaz could, inter alia, (1) stand or walk for six
hours in an eight-hour workday; (2) occasionally climb ramps,
stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; (3) occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and (4) frequently
reach overhead with both arms and finger with both hands.
See id. at 83, 84. Dr. Hill opined that Diaz's
psychologically based symptoms moderately limited her ability
to complete a normal workday and workweek, but that she was
not significantly limited in, inter alia, (1)
carrying out short and simple instructions; (2) maintaining
attention and concentration for extended periods; (3)
sustaining an ordinary routine without special supervision;
(4) working in coordination with or in proximity to others
without being distracted by them; and (5) making simple
work-related decisions. See id. at 85.